When things get personal, brands win

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I’m a Broncos fan, and boy was last night hard to watch. I’m also a marketer. This year, the anticipation of the Super Bowl held the promise of my beloved Broncos returning to dominance, and lessons through entertainment from brands that are household names and those looking to gain new audiences. According to the Content Marketing Institute, Content Marketing is “the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling.” I read post after post from “fans” that watched the Super Bowl last night for the art. At Trapit we are feverishly working to build tools that enable marketers to surface only the most relevant content for their constituents. This year I was really excited to see how brands would incorporate content marketing elements into their commercials. Let’s take a look at a couple examples:

Squarespace: “A Better Web Awaits” –Believe it or not, Squarespace has been around for 10 years. This commercial features one web challenge after another for a total of 74 annoying things about the internet from things like virus warnings to a dig on parents who over-share photos of their children on social networks. They close with “we can’t change what the web has become but we can change what it will be, a better web starts with your website.” This commercial appeals to the individual pains as a consumer on the internet, and then attempts to switch to appealing to a business or brand. Perhaps if it had stuck with one user over the other it would have been more successful. This one is getting low marks all the way around this morning.

Coca Cola America is Beautiful- In this mashup of different voices and languages there are unique American faces — white, brown, young, old, gay, straight, all singing different portions of America is the beautiful. Coca Cola has always strived to be a brand that unites consumers around a single idea that we are many but united. This commercial is creating a great deal of buzz and a fare amount of backlash for Coca Cola. Buzz is buzz so this one goes down for a win for Coca Cola.

Beats: Goldilocks- The commercial opens with “Once there was a girl hungry for the perfect music to dance to”. Beats music is using the Super Bowl as their launching pad for what they call the 2nd generation of music streaming services. When you visit their website, they describe their product as the first music service that understands you. Pandora, Netflix, and Amazon are stellar brand examples of how this type of personalization changes the consumer experience. Beats is going after mainstream listeners and, more specifically, women. According to Nielsen demographic data, 46% of the Super Bowl viewing audience is female, and more women watch the game than the Oscars, Grammys, and Emmys combined. I’ve been a loyal Spotify listener for almost two years, but I’m signing up for Beats today to check them out. Their ad worked on this woman.

Microsoft: “Empowering” Microsoft has been a long time supporter of the Seattle Seahawks, but in this ad campaign we see Microsoft attempting to bring humanity and technology together. They dabbled with this in the 90s but for the better part of the last 20 years this is an angle they have stayed away from. They are getting personal. It’s hard to watch this and not feel a tinge of gratitude for how technology enriches our lives. Win for Microsoft.

I have had a John Elway Starting Line-up figurine since I was a kid. It went to college with me, and it’s been on every desk for every job I have had in the last twenty years. That figurine and the memories of him serve as a constant reminder to me to never give up, leave it all on the field, and strive for excellence. Every time I see it I am flooded with childhood and professional memories of challenge and triumph. Let’s face it, most of us will never get the chance to play in the Super Bowl or work on a Super Bowl campaign. But, I’m convinced there has never been a better time to be a marketer. The best marketing efforts get personal and provide value. When consumers feel like you get them and have something worthwhile to give and you aren’t just selling them, they will flock to your brand. Are you doing everything you can to give your prospects and customers the content they need to be successful? At Trapit, we believe the content you share has to be personal and relevant. If you want to learn more about how we do that, come check out one of our demos.

-Lori

What Your B2B Salespeople Are Missing (and How to Fix It)

In the era of the self-directed buyer, it has become increasingly more difficult for salespeople to get meetings with potential customers, and when they do book a meeting, poof! The buyer vanishes into thin air afterwards.

In part, this struggle could be the result of timid salespeople. But, truth be told, the sales team isn’t always to blame. Sometimes, it’s the result of lackluster sales enablement. Sometimes, your sales team doesn’t have access to the insights they need to be successful.

The Content and Insights Buyers Want

What do your buyers want? That’s what every marketer or salesperson is trying to determine. Luckily, some recent research sheds light on the subject.

The firm MarketingSherpa dove into this question a couple years ago, and they found that 82% of prospects wanted content geared towards specific industries. In other words, potential customers don’t want general information. They want information about their industry.

This finding has resurfaced in more recent research, as well. Forrester polled 319 executive-level buyers, asking them about their recent encounters with salespeople. 57% of those executives indicated that the vendors’ salespeople were not knowledgeable about their customers’ industries.

That’s alarming. Why do the majority of salespeople know so little about their buyers’ industries?

The answer lies in our attitudes towards sales enablement.

When we empower our sales teams, we often focus on the product and sharpening our unique value proposition. However, as Forrester’s research illustrates, product knowledge is not the biggest problem facing sales teams today. The majority of salespeople (62%) understand their product, according to executive-level buyers.

What salespeople need help understanding is their buyers’ world. Without that knowledge, keeping buyers’ attention is difficult.

How Do You Supply Sales with Industry-Specific Insight?

If you’re a marketer, your palms are sweating right now. On top of creating general content for your company, you’re wondering how you will have time to create industry-specific content for your sales team. Is it even possible for your team to create more content?

Probably not. Your team is creating at least 320 pieces of content per month – perhaps more if you’re at a midsize or large enterprise.

The solution: Work smarter – not harder. As a marketer, you have options that don’t involve creating more content.

Instead of tirelessly creating more content about industries, you can empower your sales organization with third-party content that discusses specific industries. For example, you might share blog posts about recent research related to the Manufacturing industry or the latest news articles about the Financial Services industries.

Let’s face it. Budgets are limited. Companies cannot do extensive original research on every industry, nor can marketers create content about every industry. In fact, only 32% of marketers are able to produce enough blog posts, research reports, infographics, etc. to fit their needs.

So, forward-thinking sales enablement teams are heading in a different direction. Rather than fretting over creating original content, they are supplying their salespeople with third-party content. Not only does this make life easier for marketers; it makes salespeople more effective. As Maribeth Ross of the Aberdeen Group notes:

So, what are you waiting for?

Sparking Sales with Industry-Specific Content

Empowered with content, not only will your sales team stay abreast of what’s happening in their customers’ industries; they can share those insights with their customers. In turn, your sellers will give your customers exactly what they expect from your team.

Getting Started with Curating Third-Party Content

Fill out this workbook and start devising your plan today!

What’s Marketing Got to Do with Social Selling?

In the words of Tina Turner, “What’s marketing got to do, got to do with it? Who needs a marketer when a marketer can be broken?”

Errrm, that last line didn’t quite work out the way we wanted it to. Though, it does capture the sentiment that some sales leaders feel. How many times have you heard the following line? It’s “social selling” – not “social marketing.” Why should marketing be involved?

True, sales reps will be the primary practitioners of social selling. Nevertheless, marketers can and should provide critical support for social selling programs. Let’s take a look at what marketing’s got to do with it.

Before marketers offer a helping hand, they need to understand the differences between B2B social selling and social media marketing. While some tactics will cross over, others will not. Social selling, after all, is much more personal. Its goal is to connect with people, to foster personal relationships with them, and to add value – with the end goal of having sales conversations offline.

The industry analysts have written a lot about social selling, and one message comes across loud and clear: Sales teams need the support of their marketing teams. Forrester specifically prescribes:

“Marketers need to team with their sales counterparts to implement a balanced program that will provide the sales organization with realistic guardrails and quality content, while allowing them the flexibility to engage on social channels in a way that is most relevant to their professional networks.”

Read more tips in this blog post.

The customer’s digital experience is at the core of today’s B2B marketing organization. In a short period of time, content marketing, social media marketing, and marketing automation have gone from “nice-to-haves” to “must-haves” and from “must-haves” to “givens.”

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for today’s sales organizations. By and large, sales teams remain digitally immature. Compared to their marketing counterparts, salespeople have not embraced the modern customer’s experience, and that has profound ramifications for businesses. This post takes a closer look at what’s happening.

Jill Rowley tugs at the same thread, but from a slightly different angle. She highlights that sales teams aren’t part of the digital transformation conversation, and part of the problem stems from sales teams’ unwavering mindsets. The old way of selling was grounded in this thought: we want to SELL something. And that’s where many sales teams are stuck. But nowadays, there’s a new way of selling: we will show you exactly why, when, and how it benefits you to make a purchase.

Read more of Jill’s thoughts on LinkedIn.

Nearly 80% of companies have not aligned their social selling strategies with their marketing’s social strategies. And that’s having negative repercussions on social selling programs.

In today’s complex buying environment, where large buying committees struggle to arrive at a consensus, building deeper relationships with customers is necessary. That’s why it’s more important than ever for sales and marketing teams to work together. This post discusses how the two departments can align their strategies along three poles: the customer, content, and messaging.

Launching a social selling program requires change management. In part, that means engaging stakeholders across departments, especially marketing.

If you’re launching a social selling program for the first time, this blog post is a must-read. It walks you through eight of the essential pillars for launching a new program and entrenching a change in behavior with your sales reps and employees.

Want to Learn More about Social Selling?

Check out the Executive Guide to Social Selling.

Posted byMark Bajus

What Is a Social Selling Playbook, and How Do I Create One?

As more and more salespeople become active on social media, sales leaders need to provide their teams guidance. The best way to do that is by creating a playbook.

A social selling playbook describes how your salespeople should engage with their buyers on social networks. It makes sure that your entire team is consistent, while also guiding them through the sometimes troubled waters of social media.

Below, you’ll find a framework for creating your playbook, including scenarios that may arise and suggested responses that your sales team can use. This framework is not exhaustive. Rather, it’s meant to get you thinking about how you want your salespeople to act on social media.

For example, when should they say silent?

Indicate When Salespeople Shouldn’t Respond

Not every LinkedIn comment or Twitter question needs or merits a response. This is a hard lesson to learn, and it’s one that you should include in your playbook.

For example, you might encourage your salespeople to remain silent when they come across:

  • Generic mentions of the company without any commentary
  • Sarcastic, derogatory, or otherwise mean-spirited remarks
  • Rumors

There may come a time when disgruntled customers or prospects decide to take their frustration out on your salespeople. Knowing when to remain silent will be helpful for your salespeople. So, take the time to figure that out now, before your salespeople start using social networks.

Arm Salespeople with Sample Responses

When creating your playbook, don’t focus solely on what sales reps shouldn’t do. That will make them nervous and scared of social networks. Instead, give them examples of what they should do. That way, they feel empowered.

Questions: It helps to walk your sales reps through sample scenarios. Let’s start with something basic. Let’s say that someone asks your salesperson a product-related question. Here’s a flowchart that you might use.

Comments and Replies: On Twitter and LinkedIn, your salespeople should routinely share great content that positions them as go-to resources. Of course, when they share content effectively, they will receive comments and replies. This flowchart can help them deal with replies and comments:

Competitors: It’s fairly common for people to mention competitors on social media. What should your salespeople do in those situations? The answer to that question varies from organization to organization. Here’s a sample flowchart to get you thinking about your strategy:

For salespeople, the question of competitors will be a big one. Be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • If a sales rep’s prospect is tweeting at your competitor, should the sales rep interject or bring it up in conversation?
  • If sales reps run across an article that mentions your competitors without mentioning your company, should the salespeople track down the author?
  • If people are discussing your competitors in a LinkedIn group, should sales reps chime in by mentioning your product?

There’s no right or wrong answer. But here’s a good general rule of thumb: If it would be rude to butt into the conversation in real life, it’s probably rude on social media, as well.

Have a Protocol for Escalation

Every social selling playbook needs to have an escalation process. Your salespeople need to feel like your team will support them in the event that things turn ugly. (They probably won’t, but it’s always best to prepare for the worst.)

You should determine which categories of posts should be escalated and who should be in charge of handling them. Here are a couple times when comments should be escalated:

  • Personal attacks
  • Libellous claims

In those instances, your company’s legal and HR teams should be able to help. In your playbook, include the contact information of the appropriate parties and everyone’s role and responsibilities. Be sure to review the escalation process frequently, especially if employees frequently change roles in your company.

Consider Including an FAQs Section

A lot can go into a social selling playbook, and it’s impossible to include everything. A good playbook should anticipate the most frequently asked questions. For example, you might include:

  • Examples of copy for LinkedIn connection requests
  • How to use social networks in your sales development process – For example, should SDRs “be visible” when they look at someone’s profile? How often should they look at someone’s profile?
  • Buying signals on social media – When should a sales rep introduce the product to someone? And how?

If you don’t know what to include, ask your sales reps. They probably have plenty of questions.

Finally, Keep Your Playbook Updated

Over time, you’ll learn about the strengths and weaknesses of your team, and you’ll have to adapt your playbook. Think of your social selling playbook as a living document. It should be updated on a regular basis because both your team and social media will change.

Trust me, your team will thank you. No wants to follow a social selling playbook that was last updated in 2012.

Looking to Launch Your Social Selling Program?

Download this interactive workbook, and learn how to successfully launch your program!

What Is Marketing’s Role in B2B Social Selling?

Here’s one of the best-kept secrets of social selling: If you want your sales team to be successful on social media, you need help from your marketing department. Without strong support from Marketing, getting your salespeople on social media is like herding cats.

But how exactly are marketers supposed to facilitate social selling? Let’s take a look at what the researchers are saying.

What’s Marketing’s Job in All of This?

On the topic of social selling, the leading research firms have surprisingly similar takes: Marketing needs to play a key role in social selling. As you skim the quotes below, note the similarities.

Peter O’Neill of Forrester writes:

The Aberdeen Group states:

Pop quiz: In one word, what unites these two quotes?

Answer: Content. (If you’re more verbose, you might respond with, “Sales enablement through content.”)

Indeed, a key component of any social selling program is content. And both Forrester and the Aberdeen Group position Marketing as the business unit that’s responsible for supplying content to Sales for their social networks.

Why Do You Need Content?

Think about it. If your salespeople don’t have content, what else are they going to share on social media? How will prospects notice them? How will they break the ice with potential buyers?

Through content, you can showcase your salespeople’s knowledge, turn them into go-to resources for industry-related insights, and empower them to have conversations with potential buyers.

Why Should Marketing Be Involved?

The term “social selling” contains the word “selling,” which leads you to believe that the program falls exclusively under the purview of Sales. Yet, the researchers cited above tell you to involve the marketing team. Why is that?

1. Your marketing team can communicate best practices on social media.

Most likely, your marketing team has led your company’s foray into social media, and since they have spent significant time on social media, they understand what works and what doesn’t work. They understand what buyers like to read and what they don’t like to read. Encourage your marketing team to share their knowledge with the sales team and create clearly defined best practices for them.

2. Your marketing team understands the right content mix.

It’s silly to think that all prospects on social media are ready to buy your product. On social media, some people may be in denial about their problem. They may have no clue that they need your product or services, and you don’t want to bombard those early-stage buyers with demo requests or come across as too pushy early on.

That’s why you need your marketers. Whereas salespeople are accustomed to discussing products and services with people who are actively seeking solutions, marketers have a more expansive view of the buyer’s journey.

Marketers are quite good at matching content to each stage of the journey, and they know what’s the right content mix. For example, they understand that thought leadership content performs better than product-oriented content on social media, and they will provide your sales team with a wide variety of content to share.

3. Your marketing team is familiar with your company’s readiness.

Let’s face it. Some companies are not ready for social selling. They’ve barely dipped their toes in the world of social media, and they’re just starting to discover what works.

But if your company has been active on social media for some time, your marketing team will have a realistic picture of your company’s readiness. They know where your company is right now and where your company should be in the future. And they will have an idea of how the sales organization can fit into the social vision for your company.

The Bottom Line

Before you jump into social selling, make sure that you have the support of your marketing department. The marketers in your company will be able to assess your company’s current situation, provide best practices, and set your salespeople up for success by supplying them with the right content and the right messages.

Ready to Start Working on Your Social Selling Strategy?

Download our social selling workbook. It walks you through the process of setting up your strategy.

What Employees Want to Share on Social Media [New Research]

What do employees want to share on social media?

That’s an essential question that companies should ask. Employees, after all, are the linchpin that holds together employee advocacy programs. Without knowledge of employees’ wants and needs, there won’t be widespread adoption, and you won’t see results.

Nonetheless, employees’ voices are missing from the research on the subject. Until now, employee advocacy surveys have focused on the buyers of advocacy solutions. Research reports have discussed companies’ plans for launching advocacy programs, but no one knows what employees want.

To dive into employees’ content preferences and opinions, we surveyed 400 U.S. employees, and here are three key takeaways from our survey The Trapit Content Report: Employee Outlook on Content Marketing and Distribution.

Too Many Companies Are Winging It

Organizations with more sophisticated programs have implemented systems and strategies that guide their employees. However, too many companies are still winging it.

One survey question threw this point into sharp relief. The majority of respondents (56.5%) indicated that they are encouraged to share content on social media during meetings.

Let’s think about this strategy for a second. First, employers are encouraging employees to share content during meetings, yet meetings are a time when we want employees to focus on what’s being said – not writing tweets or LinkedIn status updates. Hmm…

Second, few employees (28.2%) are encouraged to share content through technology. Without technology in place, how are you going to measure the impact of your employees’ social sharing?

Employees See the Value in Advocacy

To marketers, the benefits of social media are evident. But do your employees understand the benefits of sharing content on social media?

Curious to know the answer, we asked our survey respondents what benefits their companies see when employees share content with their social networks. The vast majority (74.9%) identified some type of benefit. (Only 10.2% saw no benefits whatsoever.)

  • 11.2% said, “Sales – people buy our products when we talk about them positively”
  • 42.7% said, “Awareness – people take notice when we share information about our company”
  • 21.0% said, “Brand credibility – people trust our brand more when we share from our personal accounts”

Side note: Perhaps it’s not surprising that more respondents did not choose “Sales,” given that many marketers are still learning how to track the ROI of social media.

Employees Want Third-Party Content – Not Just Branded Content

As marketers, we invest large amounts of time and energy into creating content. Of course, we want our employees to see our content and acknowledge our hard work by sharing our blog posts, reports, infographics, slide decks, etc.

However, that’s not exactly what employees want. Sure, they want to share the company’s content, but they also want to share third-party content on social media.

  • 55.0% of respondents indicated that sharing a mixture of third-party and company-created content is best for social media.

When we asked respondents to indicate their content preferences more forthrightly, the most common answer was related to third-party content. 33.7% of employees indicated that they are most likely to share news articles about the industry on social media.

The finding points up the need for third-party content curation. If companies want their employees to act as content distributors, companies should not only provide company-created content, but also information from around the web.

How to Apply This Knowledge

The opinions of 400 survey respondents should shape employee advocacy programs in two ways:

1. Before asking employees to share content on social media, organizations need to take the time to build an infrastructure:

  • Document a strategy across the enterprise
  • Select software that enables content storage, notifications, and social sharing
  • Provide employees with clear guidelines for sharing content.

2. Give your employees what they want. The survey results show that employees are happy to share company-created content, but they don’t want to be corporate spam bots. They want to share third-party content, as well.

With those pieces in place, you’ll be well on your way to launching a strong employee advocacy program.

Check out the Full Survey Results

Download our survey and find out more about employees’ outlook on content marketing and distribution.

What Employee Advocacy Is Not

On the Trapit blog, we’ve discussed the benefits of employee advocacy at length. Now we need to cover what it is not. There are many misconceptions about employee advocacy marketing. This post seeks to clear up those misconceptions.

1. It is not about advocating for your employees.

This is perhaps the biggest misconception. Employee advocacy does not mean advocating on your employees’ behalf (in the legal sense). Instead, it means asking your employees to advocate on your company’s behalf and to act as marketers: to share content, to build trust, and to drive sales.

2. It is not about creating fake employees.

Some companies are tempted to create fake Twitter profiles, complete with fake names and fake photos. The marketing department then operates these fake accounts, tries to pass them off as real employees, and writes fake status updates about the company on behalf of their fake employees.

That is not employee advocacy. If you’re tempted to institute such a program, you’re missing out. You’re failing to tap into your real employee’s networks and capitalize on their trusted, authentic relationships with friends, family, and colleagues.

3. It is not about pretending to like your company.

If you’re an employee who does not believe in your company’s products, services, or industry, you shouldn’t participate in your company’s advocacy program. Don’t pretend to be excited about something that does not interest you. Your followers will see through your feigned enthusiasm.

4. It is not about automation.

Don’t set up your advocacy platform in such a way that it automatically posts content to your employees’ social networks. This defeats the purpose of advocacy. You’re trying to give a more human, less robotic image to your company.

5. It is not about pitching.

Many of your employees’ followers will not be ready to buy your product or services. If your employees only share updates about your products or continuously solicit demo requests, their followers will be annoyed. Trust will be lost, and people will tune out your advocates.

Think about it as adding value. What can your employees share on social that will add value to their followers’ lives?

6. It is not about being on every social media network.

If an employee advocate loves LinkedIn but dislikes Pinterest, she shouldn’t have to be on Pinterest. Advocates are not social media managers. They do not have to be fluent in all social networks. They should pick the ones that feel comfortable for them.

7. It is not a replacement for other forms of marketing.

Companies with advocacy programs still need to run e-mail campaigns, nurture their leads, monitor their corporate social accounts, and write content. Think of your employee marketers as another channel.

8. It is not a solution that only benefits marketing.

Sure, marketing benefits from advocacy. Because of your advocacy program, more people see your marketing messages. But the perks do not stop there. Advocacy can also benefit your sales team, your human resources department, and even your CEO.

9. It is not innate.

We do not live in a sci fi world where babies come out of the womb tweeting. Your employees will need to be trained on social media best practices.

10. It is not magic.

If only you could buy an advocacy platform, then, sit back, relax, and watch the revenue pour in. Employee advocacy requires the right strategy, the right people, the right content, and the right technology. It will take some effort on your part.

Image via Jansos.

Want to learn more about what employee advocacy is?

Download the Rise of the Employee Marketer to learn more.

What Customers Expect from Brands on Twitter

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If you’re a brand and you’re not on Twitter, you’re doing something wrong. While Google is still the first stop for a quick company search, Twitter is quickly becoming the place to discover and interact with brands, both big and small. Angry at Comcast for a dropped call or billing error? Tweet them and you’ll likely get a more enjoyable response than sitting on the phone on hold for 25 minutes. Want to find out about the best new products from your favorite clothing retailer? Check out their Twitter for real-time updates or even special offers. As a brand, just being on Twitter isn’t enough. Both your customers and prospects have expectations of just how a company should behave. Let’s call it social brand etiquette. Here are the absolute basics.

News about your company

If you have news about your company or brand, great! Be sure to share it on social. Having it on your website isn’t enough. There are countless customers and prospects who may only see you via your social presence. Make sure they know what the latest happenings are and what your brand is up to. You might catch the eye of a casual Twitter user who wouldn’t ever come directly to your brand’s website.

Quality original content

This one is a no-brainer, and it’s undoubtedly part of any successful brand strategy on Twitter. If you have a company blog, white-paper, or infographic, don’t neglect to post it on Twitter, even if it seems like it may be more successful on a different social channel. It doesn’t hurt to put all of your quality content out there for customers to see. They will appreciate being well-informed about you and your product.

Quality curated content

We are big proponents of curation, and there are good reasons to back that up. By posting quality content created by others on your social channels, you are telling your customers and audience that you care about your industry and sharing relevant insights, even if they come from another individual or company. Sharing curated content alongside your own content builds trust, brand authority, and thought-leadership. Your Twitter will become a place your audience goes for quality information.

Customer service

Twitter is a great outlet for basic customer service, and your customers like it that way. I know I, for one, would much rather Tweet a question to a brand, go on with my day, and get an answer back within a few hours, than sit on the phone listening to bad muzak for an undetermined amount of time. Be sure to monitor Twitter for mentions of your brand, and always respond. If you can answer a question or solve a problem on Twitter, do it. If the issue is too complicated to express in 140 characters, kindly thank them for reaching out and direct them to your email or a customer support email address.

Timely responses

Whether you are onboard with it or not, you will receive questions, feedback, and probably also complaints on Twitter. The sooner you can respond to all of those Tweets, even the negative ones, the better. Responding within 24 hours is ideal. Whenever I have tried contacting brands on Twitter, a timely and kind response has gone a long way in my respect for that brand and their customer service. It makes your customers feel like you are always there for them, accessible on one of their favorite social outlets.

Your brand voice

Last, but absolutely not least, your Twitter activity should always reflect your brand voice. Defining your brand voice is a whole other post, but once you’ve nailed down whether you are the authoritative professional type, the fun and playful type, or somewhere in between, make sure that your activity on Twitter reflects that style. If your voice is formal and professional, sharing silly viral videos might seem out of character. If your voice is light and silly, responding to customers with terse, short answers might be off-putting. Keep your voice consistent in your own Tweets, the content you share, and the way you respond to your customers.

– Kelly

“Water water everywhere, nor any drop to drink”

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We’re all familiar with Samuel Coleridge’s late-18th century “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” – the tormented sailor punished at sea, a dead albatross around his neck, dying of thirst while surrounded by water. Today, we live in oceans of data, yet struggle to quench our thirst for relevant content.

Recently, I was enjoying some cheese and wine after dinner. As I was about to put English Stilton on a water cracker, a colleague I was traveling with suggested I try the wheat cracker instead. “The Stilton will over-power that biscuit,” she said. “I think you’ll find the heartiness of the whole wheat will better stand up to the pungent blue cheese and sweet fig.” Now, I’m far from a gourmet, so I gladly accepted this well-informed advice. But my culinary ineptitude is hardly the point. What struck me was the breadth and depth and diversity of choices we are exposed to every minute of our lives. From the time we are born until our dying day, we are bombarded by – engulfed in – an overwhelming stream of ideas, choices, and information, from innumerable sources: visual, audible, tactile, and olfactory, and from an ever-increasing number of sources. This ranges from television to the Internet to the rants and ramblings of other human beings to the sounds, signals, salutations, or suggestions that assault our senses throughout all of our waking moments, rewinding and replaying, and we struggle to choose.

We’d like to believe we live in the Age of Information; we really live in the Age of Data. Data is an ocean… vast, deep, impenetrable, and unfathomable. We can easily drown in this ocean of data, swept away by rip currents of dancing cats and singing dogs and “must-buys.” Relevant information is the bounty from this ocean of data – the pearl of relevance from that oyster so obscure in a remote crevice so far beneath the surface. It is that sunken treasure undistinguished from the sands and seaweed and saline that has concealed it for so many centuries. Yet the course our lives take is determined by our ability to distinguish that which is relevant from that which is meaningless – the pearl from the mussel, the gold from the sunken treasure chest, from that rusted iron of a trawler’s hull.

The point is, the explosion of technology over the past decade has made this ocean of data deeper and wider – and treacherously so. I am struck by the observation that 90% of all the world’s content had been created in the past two years. The initial reaction is one of wonder and excitement – so much “content” in such a short time. Yet that observation makes no judgment on the quality or veracity of this content: are we to believe that the great works of countless millennia of human creativity: from Plato to Shakespeare to Da Vinci and Einstein – have been replicated – tenfold – in the past two years? Hardly. These great works of human intellect – from centuries ago and continuing today – will always be precious and desirable. But the ever-increasing quantity of data available today threatens to drown that information which is truly important, meaningful, and relevant – to you. For we each have different passions that swim in these vast oceans. And as these oceans get deeper and the tides higher and currents swifter, it is increasingly difficult to capture from these streams that which is personally relevant. Fact is, technology is not always synonymous with improved quality of our lives. Consider the Concord, which promised a future of supersonic air travel – still unrealized despite its maiden voyage nearly fifty years ago. Just as technology advancements have not materially improved the speed of air travel in our lifetimes, technology’s advancements in the ability to create data have not improved our ability to separate what is banal from what is relevant.

In short, our lives depend on our capacity to recognize and process the increasing streams of data that surround and assail us, and the actions we take based on our assimilation of this data – the art of discerning what is relevant from the vast majority that is personally absurd. And since the course and quality of our lives so depends on how effectively we discern the pearls from the scrap, even incremental improvements to the means have fundamental impact on the ends.

We believe Trapit is much more than an incremental improvement to the way groups and individuals can process data – it’s a tool that is revolutionary in its ability to assist in the filtering of an endlessly expanding flood of data. Curation is key in this hunt for content that matters to you or your audience. You can learn more about how Trapit can help evaporate this ocean and why you should be curating here.

-Gary

Two Roads Diverge: Discovery vs. Search

Image via flickr.

A few decades ago, William Trogdon found himself at a crossroads – out of work and out of a marriage. Unsure of what the future held, he set out on what was to be his own personal discovery of America; a journey that would consume three months and some 13,000 miles. Trogden’s only criteria was to stick to two lane highways and small towns. Writing under the pseudonym William Least Half-Moon, he chronicles his travels in Blue Highways: A Journey Into America, a bit of a cult classic. Along the way, he encounters characters ranging from the born-again Christian teenager to a boat builder, a prostitute, a maple syrup farmer, a Hopi Native American medical student, and a host of others.

This past week, my wife and I were invited by friends to spend New Year’s weekend with them in Scottsdale, Arizona. We knew exactly where we were going, and when we wanted to be there, and had only to determine the airline with the best rates and schedule. In making the trek to Arizona, I focused on getting there as quickly and efficiently as possible: no detours, whether they be farmers, hitchhikers, or prostitutes.

My path was direct, like search, while the path of Blue Highways was meandering, like discovery – Charles “discovered” a lot of interesting places and people that he didn’t know he was looking for – but he sure was delighted when he found them. In my case, I knew exactly what I wanted, and was satisfied when I got my answer.

Said another way, Christopher Columbus was “searching” for a water route to India. Of course, he “discovered” America – perhaps not what he set out to do, but arguably a discovery that had far greater economic, social, and historical impact.

Putting this in Trapit’s perspective, when you need information, we like to think of it in two axes. The first is precision: I know what I want – a fact (when did Columbus “discover” America? What was the name of his flagship?) Or it may be driving directions to that new restaurant, or finding that replacement part for your vacuum cleaner.

The second axis is serendipity, the magic we experience when we find something that is really interesting, that didn’t know we were looking for–the Appalachian log cabin restorer that William Trogdon met, or the cocoa beans that Columbus brought back from the New World to the delight of European aristocrats. When it comes to information, a balance of these two axes is important: too much precision is simply boring, while unconstrained serendipity is chaos – a random collection of data without personal relevance.

The web has gotten too big not to be personalized; it is growing and changing much faster than your interests. Can search meet your needs? Sure, sometimes. Maybe for that vaccum cleaner part – if you can wade through the sites that have paid to make sure they have a chance to sell you a vacuum cleaner – or a toaster. But capturing the surprise and delight we remember from when the web was young. Exploring the unknown. That’s discovery.

Gary Griffiths
Trapit CEO and Co-founder

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